Friday, October 8, 2010

The Museum of Ancient History

Monday night, Kira and I made rotis--the dough is made out of water and flour (usually whole wheat flour or chapati flour we pick up at the local Indian grocery store) which you kneed together, roll out, and then either lightly oil and fold or else just cook straight if you're in a hurry. My mom used to tell us that when your rotis puff up really easily while cooking, it means you're ready to get married. When I lived at her parent's house, I used to tease my grandma that grandpa's well-made rotis were proof that even after all these years, he was still ready to be married to her.

Kira, thank goodness, is not ready to be married. Most rotis are either square or round but she rolls the dough out sort of lopsided and gets all sorts of interesting shapes. She calls one creation a "firefox roti" and says excitedly that means it's for me--which makes me blush and wonder whether I spend too much time on the internet. But the firefox roti tastes good with channa (spiced garbanzo beans) and a mix between Tex-Mex chili and Punjabi rajma, both topped with homemade yogurt, so I decide my life is okay.

Thinking about the firefox-shaped roti the next morning reminds me of a story my mom used to tell: the first time she and her siblings went to India, their grandma took them to see the "museum of ancient history" in a nearby city and laughed and laughed when the ancient kitchen exhibit was virtually indistinguishable from her own kitchen at home!

And I know we're used to thinking of progress like a line: an evolution from squatting to cook to installing counters to eating out, from fire to stove-top to microwave and George Foreman Grill, from roti to baker's loaf to WonderBread. I like to think Beiji would have smiled, though, to know that my daughter rolls out the kind of bread they cooked in the kitchens depicted in the museum of ancient history, then names it after her dad's browser on the internet.

Maybe sometimes it's better for history to act like a circle instead of always being a straight line. Maybe sometimes people who understand their history should want to repeat it in their small motions even as they carry on their inevitably modern lives.

1 comment:

  1. I heard recently of a woman in India with a modern kitchen... who used to jump up and squat on the counter in order to roll out her rotis.


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